Washington, DC -- January 4, 2001 -- Consumer affairs professionals who master online interactive strategies to meet customer service demands will also be successful at building customer relationships and loyalty, according to the findings of a recent Food Marketing Institute (FMI) survey of consumer affairs professionals conducted by Willard Bishop Consulting and the Paper Bag Council of the American Forest & Paper Association. Complete results of the study are now available at the FMI Web site (www.fmi.org).

The two-phase study identified current online consumer relations initiatives, assessed industry e-mail practices and evaluated internal challenges and future opportunities for online success. Results indicate that online consumer relations are becoming increasingly important to retailers as consumers look to supermarket Web sites as a source of shopping and service.


Based on interviews with more than 50 consumer affairs executives representing nearly one-quarter of the supermarket industry, the study concluded that:

  • Size, location and type of supermarket do not determine the extent of online offerings because the Internet enables companies of all sizes to provide a higher level of service.

  • While most supermarket Web sites offer basic information, such as company history, only a few have progressive interactions such as online ordering.

  • The grocery industry recognizes the value of click-and-brick integration. Nearly all (97 percent) retailers surveyed promote in-store shopping by offering store coupons or discounts online. Also, 41 percent of retailers with loyalty programs have online registration forms.

  • Many consumer affairs professionals (40 percent) feel their current online initiatives fall below their consumer expectations.

The study also notes that consumer affairs departments are increasingly using e-mail to reach consumers, rather than using traditional methods such as direct mail or display advertising. Executives reported using e-mail for company newsletters, contests and promotions, customer surveys and e-commercials with video messages. They project that their e-mails will grow by 147 percent over the next year.

Rising to the Challenge

According to the survey, supermarket companies are still looking for the right way to organize their e-business efforts and 83 percent of the companies do not have an e-commerce department. In the majority of those companies, marketing, consumer affairs or information technology (IT) departments handle e-commerce operations.

One key to online success, noted the survey, is better internal organization and communication. Among the companies in the survey, 33 percent indicated they needed better internal organization. Upgrading Web technology (28 percent) and adding staff for online operations (26 percent) were indicated as well.

Recommendations for Improving Online Services

The survey recommends that consumer affairs professionals who want to build leading e-communication strategies should focus on the following:

  • Educate yourselves on who is shaping expectations. Look across industries for best practices/different ideas.

  • Use new communication tools for new communication rules. Improve e-mail practices by providing quicker responses and using auto responses.

  • Take time to organize. A more focused approach, such as a task force of senior management, can help streamline decision-making processes.

  • Customerization: The one-to-one network. The future will bring customization, solution-selling and consumer-specific marketing. Providing the link between the brick-and-click business elements is essential for online and off-line loyalty.

To view the entire survey and results, please click below.